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by Andrew Learmonth
27 October 2021
Time is right to reform Scotland's exams, says education minister

Time is right to reform Scotland's exams, says education minister

Exams for Scottish school pupils are here to stay, the education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has told MSPs. 

The minister said that while national qualifications would be radically reformed, “externally assessed examination will remain part of the new system”.

That will include the controversial Scottish National Standardised Assessments on literacy and numeracy for P1, P4, P7 and S3s. 

That’s despite criticism from the OECD in its report on Curriculum for Excellence, published in June. 

The minister said a wide range of views would be sought on the reforms, with young people and teachers informing how the new system will work.

In their independent review of Scotland’s school curriculum, the OECD made a number of recommendations 

The review was initially commissioned by the Scottish Government to look into that senior phase of schooling but was expanded after opposition parties voted in Holyrood to cover all years.

In their report, the OECD warned of “a busy system at risk of policy and institutional overload,” saying there was a "variable picture" in the performance of the Scottish education system. 

It said the decade-old CfE worked better for learners “aged 3 to 15 years, especially in primary schools” than for those aged 15 to 18.

The review also said the way in which grades are awarded in the senior phase should be reformed, including on how traditional exam and memory-based assessment could “limit the wider purpose and scope of CfE.” 

They suggested this could include more continuous teacher assessment and extended essays and oral and practical presentations, rather than exams. 

The report also recommended splitting the dual functions of Education Scotland – which is responsible for inspection and curriculum development.

Shortly after the report was published, Somerville said the government would accept all 12 of the OECD review recommendations. 

Speaking in Holyrood today, the minister told MSPs: “It remains a key priority of this government to ensure that our approaches to curriculum and assessment are fit for purpose and so guarantee the best possible educational experience for children and young people, not least as we emerge from the pandemic.

“I am convinced that given the experience and views expressed over the last two years, the time is right to signal that the Scottish Government supports reform of national qualifications and assessment.

“It will be vital when considering reform that we work with all those with an interest, to, as far as possible, build a consensus on this issue.

“We will consult on the purpose and principles which should underpin any reform of national qualifications and assessment. This will be the first step in a process which must be done with careful thought and consideration, recognising the importance of national qualifications to learners.”

A reference group, led by Professor Louise Hayward, Professor of Educational Assessment and Innovation at Glasgow University, will be set up to provide advice to Ministers on the reforms.

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